Learn How to Make Your Own Song Arrangements


[Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on creating song arrangements]

Making a song your own is a rewarding experience, even if it’s just coming up with a nice intro vamp or adding a cheeky ending that brings a good laugh at an open-mic night. For this lesson, the first in a two-part series, I’ll teach you how you can begin to compose creative arrangements through interchangeable parts—intros and outros, vamps and licks, style changes, and more. 

I chose the vaudeville classic “Ain’t We Got Fun” because it’s easy to see those devices at work in this short, straight-forward song. In this installment, I’ll concentrate on a basic arrangement of the song, along with a few special intros and outros. Study these examples closely, and then try coming up with your own variations.

The Basic Form

Start by strumming slowly and singing through the basic arrangement of “Ain’t We Got Fun” in the key of C major, as shown in Example 1. I omitted many of the chords from the original to create this simplified version. If you don’t know the song, many artists have recorded it, and it’s quite easy to pick up after a quick listen online. 


Ain't We Got Fun ukulele notation for creating song arrangements lesson

Use any strum you like with a jazzy swing feel. Simple downstrokes with your thumb on the beat and the occasional upstroke on an “and” work great for this.

Any kind of jazzy fingerpicking accompaniment is a great way to get a new sound going. Changing from strumming to fingerpicking or vice versa can be very effective in altering the energy or mood of different sections in this or any other song. 

Adding an instrumental intro and/or outro is an easy way to personalize an arrangement. As depicted in Example 2, playing the chord progression of the last four barsis a great way to start a tune. Example 3, shown with a useful fingerpicking pattern, depicts a nice vamp that also works great as bookends, i.e., both an intro and an outro. Note the use of harmonic variation here—instead of the basic progression, we play an open C chord shape on the top three strings, while moving notes in half steps on string 4 to create a C–Caug–Am–Caug progression. 

ukulele notation for creating song arrangements lesson, examples 2 and 3

The Big Finish

Example 4 is a special accompaniment to play near the end of the song; the first measure corresponds to bar 25 of the full form as shown in Ex. 1. All the best tricks are packed into this one! First, we have a small bit of chord-melody, which is done by plucking the single notes of the melody while holding down a chord, in this case, F.

ukulele notation for creating song arrangements lesson, example 4

A horn-style hit from E7 to A minor is next; strum these chords boldly, in the same rhythms as the vocal melody. Two stop-time hits come in the second and third bars. Stop time—a momentary pause from the rhythm section or chordal instrument—is a great way to spotlight the vocal melody while adding rhythmic interest to an arrangement. Strum here just on the first beat of each measure, refraining from playing on beats 2–4. 

We end with a tag that repeats bars 29–30 of the song form over the C and D7 chords, stops on the G7, and ends with a cool lick, delaying the last lyric to the C6 chord at the end of bar 8. Learning to sing along with the kicks and stops—and knowing where to best place them—is key here. Go slowly at first and really work out the rhythms. 

As always, be sure to check out the accompanying video, in which I play and sing through these examples while adding some bonus content and tips. Stay tuned for the next lesson, in which I’ll show you some more intricate variations on “Ain’t We Got Fun.” And enjoy the music!